SALT LAKE CITY — Mere images of nature can help relieve stress and lessen anger among those who are unable to consistently get a breath of fresh air — especially inmates, a new study finds.
Researchers at the University of Utah conducted an experiment with 48 prisoners in solitary confinement in the state of Oregon, showing half of them bare bones nature-filled videos several times a week.
Those who were shown the clips with regular frequency committed 26 percent fewer violent infractions in confinement over the year-long period examined by the researchers, presenting a possible solution for individuals who are deprived from the outdoors.
“There are all these inmates in maximum security and solitary confinement that we can’t bring lectures to or ecological restoration projects to as we do with inmates in minimum and medium security cellblocks,” explains researcher Nalini Nadkarni, of the study’s inquiry in a press release. “I thought, at least we could bring them nature imagery.”
The study’s participants were notable in that they had practically no exposure to nature — even their regimented periods of exercise took place in a high-walled concrete recreation yard.
Although the prisoners examined were shown any of 40 videos, representing a wide variety of natural wonders, from forests to waterfalls, the type of nature presented didn’t matter tremendously.
Overall, prisoners expressed feeling calmer post-video, even hours after viewing the clip, and 80 percent said that viewing the videos made their time spent in confinement easier.
“The nature project helps me think clearer to know there is so much more beauty in this world than this prison,” one inmate shared.
Noticing tangible benefits, some prison staff decided to combine the imagery exercise with physical exercise for particularly agitated prisoners, which helped ward off aggressive behavior.
Nadkarni, who has conducted previous experiments examining the positive effects of being exposed to nature, believes that her findings can also help millions of non-prisoners who are underexposed to nature (e.g., nursing home patients and those who reside in homeless shelters).
She plans to create nature toolkits, replete with National Geographic videos and other resources, to send to a handful of prisons later this year.
The study’s findings were published in the journal Frontiers in Ecology and the Environment.